Many employees like to add personal flair to their office spaces, whether it's by posting decorative artwork on cubicle walls or placing snapshots of their loved ones on their desk. But what happens when a worker's displayed interests and tastes offend colleagues?
"We don't always think that what's on our desk or in our cubicle is sending a message about us to our colleagues and to our boss or ... clients that come into our office," says Sally J. Scott, a partner at the law firm Franczek Radelet in Chicago. "You have to be conscious of how you want your boss, your client, or your customer to view you."
Here are eight items you might want to keep out of your workspace:
1. Racy photos. Photos of family members and best friends are generally OK for most workplaces, says Scott. But make sure those pictures don't contain revealing, drunken, or other offensive images. "Of course, you should not have photos that are sexually suggestive, and sometimes that applies to family and significant others. You may be glad you have a hot girlfriend, but we don't need a photo to prove that she's hot," Scott adds. "Or, you may be a physically affectionate couple but we don't need to see that, either, through photographic evidence."
2. Proselytizing messages. Posting an unobtrusive verse from your favorite Biblical scripture or a passage from the Quran on your cubicle wall isn't a big deal, says Scott. But hanging banners or posters that urge colleagues to join your faith is. "You really have to do a balancing test and ask, 'Is it reasonable? Is it offensive? How is it going to impact your co-workers?'" says Scott.
3. Goofy figurines. Feel free to display an army of Snoopy statuettes or miniature Smurf dolls on your office desk if you manage a comic book store. But if you're a sought-after lawyer at a recognized firm, it might be smarter to keep them at home. "Do you want your clients to come into your office and form the impression ... that you are still a big fan of Hello Kitty or Superman or a similar cartoon character?" asks Scott. "That might not project the professional image that you are looking for. On the other hand, if you're in a less conservative workplace, a more creative workplace, those kind of figurines may be welcomed."
4. Fan shrines. Maybe you consider yourself a Star Wars devotee or an avid Trekkie. It's OK to embrace your love for either franchise, Scott says, if you do so with constraint. "We have someone in our office with R2-D2--he loves his R2-D2," she says. "A single R2-D2 could be an interesting conversation piece in his office. If he had 10 Star Wars depictions, that would be too much. Showing a little personality, I think, is fine, but in moderation. One item like that is probably better than multiple items like that."
5. Your child's artwork. You might swoon over your son or daughter's Popsicle-stick collection or leaf collage, but that doesn't mean your co-workers have to follow suit. Scott says you can celebrate your child's art skills without going overboard. "You're the proud parent, and your child has made all sorts of artwork and you have a wall plastered with it. With the same principles, you can display one or two, but not [dedicate] a whole wall," she says.
6. Political images. When it comes to your political favorites, Scott says it's best to play it close to the vest. This is especially true if your supervisor's political viewpoints clash with your own. "If your employer is a known Republican supporter, certainly think about whether you want to display support for a candidate you know your employer is not in favor of," Scott says. "Maybe your employer won't care, maybe they will. So, I think you need to be sensitive to that. If you have customers or clients who are likely to come to your workspace, is [the posting] going to be something that could be offensive to them or make you a less desirable person to work with because they know they have a different political view than you?"
7. Fragrance diffusers. The smell of apple spice or lavender reed diffusers might soothe your nerves. But it might not do the same for your co-workers. Employees should be sensitive to that fact. Scents, such as perfume or cologne, which drift into others' workspaces can create an unpleasant environment for them, says Scott.
8. Leftovers. Foods with pungent smells are best consumed in the office common room, Scott says. "If you're going to eat Indian curry for lunch, see if you can go eat in the lunchroom. Again, just be sensitive about those smells or odors that you may have, particularly in a cubicle that your neighbor is going to be sharing as well. Garlic may be your favorite flavor, but it's not necessarily theirs." And if you must eat at your desk, Scott says, just remember to discard your containers. "You don't need your stack of 20 Mountain Dew cans," she says.
Above all else, Scott says employees should remember that items displayed in their offices and cubicles are extensions of themselves. "Always keep in mind, you're projecting something about yourself by what's displayed in your office," she says.
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